I have often found my local history to be quite intriguing and I relish in finding old photographs and information on places I can visit with my own
Nearby to my home there is a tiny little town called La Mesilla, New Mexico. Surprisingly, not much has changed in all the years this town has
existed, and most days it is like walking into the past; however, on the date of August 27, 1871, I think I would skip visiting if given the chance!
Here is a painting done by Leon Trousset in 1885, which hangs in the Smithsonian, of the very Plaza in La Mesilla, NM, of which I am writing about.
It should give you the general feel of how it really looked back then, and yes, it is much like it is today aside from the concrete walkways and paved
roads of our modern world.
Battle of the Bands
La Mesilla is the site of the worst Political Battle between Democrats and Republicans in the State of NM. Today it is a tranquil place where the
buildings are nearly identical if not the very same as during that time. The battle was called the "Battle of the Bands", ironically enough,
because of a political rally that encompassed the townsfolk and their eager band instruments as their political voice of the day.
Republicans stood on one side of the Plaza as Democrats stood on the other. In those days Democrats were Southern sympathizers and Republicans were
considered Union; even though the Civil War was over there was always a long-held animosity against each other.
In the attempt to rally support and to irritate the Republicans the Democrat's band began to play "Marching Through Georgia". The Republican's
band responded with their own instruments and began marching in one direction around the Plaza as the Democrats were marching in the other direction.
As soon as they came around the small Plaza and neared each other tensions grew and the accusations and insults began to fly back and forth. The
accounts are many but the description of "flashes of sabers and revolvers" were quite dramatic. People ran in all directions taking up shelter in
doorways and down narrow streets. Fists, bullets, clubs, and the like were flying in every direction; at the same time the Church, San Albino, which
sits in the Plaza, was letting out, whereby mostly women and children were exiting the building, just as the riot erupted around them. Neither side
was without loss and the Republican John Lemon later died that evening from being bludgeoned by an axe handle to the head. All total nine people were
killed and as many as 50 were seriously wounded; even the doctor that was treating the injured was shot in the hand while attempting to help.
The Calvary arrived but by that time all the tension was over, people were dispersed, and no further problems ensued, so there was nothing that could
be done other than tend to the injured and bury the dead; they returned to Fort Stockton, which today is a ruin just north of La Mesilla. Shockingly,
since there was no District Judge at the time, and this was the County Seat, there was no trial; not one person was arrested and no indictments were
made. They surmised that there was no one without fault and no one without guilt in this matter; the Democrat Apolonio Barela, who fired the first
shot into the air, which resulted in the axe handle across the head of Republican John Lemon by the Democrat I.N. Kelly, moved to Mexico to form the
settlement of Ascension.
Here is an account of that day written by Christopher Schurtz / For the Sun-News:
Deadly Politics: Mesilla Plaze, site of worst political riot of NM
It is interesting to note that the headstone of the Republican John Lemon, who died on that fateful day, was found during a renovation of the
churchyard in 1977. Fascinating! I would love to see it!
Here is an article that briefly describes this event and other interesting tidbits over the past 100 years:
La Mesilla, NM, the last 100 years
Here is a site dedicated to the Church that sits on the Plaza, San Albino, which has been designated a Basilica. The "history" links on this page
have some very interesting pictures depicting the Church and its people of the past: San Albino - Parish
Of course the most well-known part about La Mesilla, NM is Billy the Kid and his subsequent trial, but in light of our current political tensions I
thought this story would be of interest to those that find the past intriguing. I do hope you enjoyed this and although there is not much to say
beyond the referenced articles I do hope I carried the story enough to bring the reader to read the posted articles and maybe one day be prompted to
visit this tiny tranquil place that was once a hot-bed of events of our not-so-distant past.
Here is the Official Website of La Mesilla, NM: Town of La Mesilla--Official Website
think their website sucks! Sorry to say that after all of this typing
) Perhaps if change ever does come to La Mesilla, it will be by way of a
I do hope you enjoyed this tidbit of History!